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Chances are you have never heard of Natural Motion (NM), but trust me you have seen and played on their game engines. The most prominent of those is Euphoria, the driving force behind such huge titles as Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto 4. That’s right, you can thank the guys at Natural Motion for all the awesomeness that was those two games. But Natural Motion isn’t happy with just making the engines that run some of the best games around, now they want to make the games and that’s where their first attempt of it comes from in Backbreaker.
A Little Stiff Arm Action.
So “Backbreaker” has been in the works for a while now and was originally slated for release back in 2008 and some places had an August 2009 date, but based on our interview it will be ready when its ready so no release date has been set. For those folks who have become disenchanted with the Madden franchise over the last few years this may be the game for you.
The major power behind “Backbreaker” is the Euphoria engine that runs it. Euphoria brings Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS) to the next generation consoles. Dynamic Motion Synthesis is the process of using the CPU to generate animation assets. With this approach, 3D characters essentially animate themselves and produce movements that are unique every time. That’s about as deep as I am going to get on DMS, its really complex but all you need to know is that it should make for a completely awesome football game. The key word above is “unique” and Natural Motion promises that you will never see the same tackle animation. EVER.
And there NOT going to catch him.
So we knew we said we wouldn’t say anymore about DMS but this stuff is cool. To make sure you never see the same tackle twice Dynamic Motion Synthesis accurately simulates the 3D character’s motor nervous system and physical body. With Euphoria, animations are not canned but are generated on-the-fly by the hardware’s processors as the game is played. Every tackle is your tackle, every haymaker is your haymaker. Previously, animation data had to be manually created (through key-framing) or recorded (through motion capture). Euphoria is instead based on a full simulation of a 3D character, including body, muscles and motor nervous system. While conventional football games can only load a finite number of animations from a disc, Backbreaker’s real-time technology will never allow the gameplay to become stale.This creates fully interactive animations that act and react differently every time.
At this point you are probably chomping at the bit about this game, but alas there are a few reasons that “Backbreaker” might not be the hit the technology would have you think it would. First, this technology has never been used in a sports game before, it could either work really well and forever change the genre (and we think it will) or it could fail horribly and end up being more cartoony than uber realistic. Perhaps the biggest issue is publishing rights, specifically the NFL brand. As we all know, EA holds the exclusive NFL rights through 2012, so that means that Natural Motion won’t be able to use real NFL players and one must ask themselves how much will gamers want to play a game that doesn’t feature their favorite players, no matter how good it is. If they can’t build a team full of their favorite veterans and rookies, there is a large portion of gamers that just won’t pick it up. The really big problem is that EA also owns the exclusive rights to all other football brands including NCAA and Arena so they can’t go their either, maybe the UFL?
See the hole, hit the hole.
This year Madden is implementing Pro-Tak technology which is supposed to create more dynamic tackle animations although its NOT DMS which means there are still a finite number of tackle animations unlike the always unique animations you should see in Backbreaker. In the end, do we think that Backbreaker will dethrone Madden, no. Do we think that it will push Madden to truly innovate for next years iteration, absolutely. We think that at the best Backbreaker will shake the genre up and change the way sports games are made, at the worst it will force EA to not rest on their laurels. In the end, I think that if “Backbreaker” has even a minimal level of success, their technology will make Madden’s look old and dated. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see EA license the Euphoria engine for Madden someday and in the end that might be what Natural Motion has wanted all along.
To read more on DMS, check out Natural Motion’s whitepaper:
Dynamic Motion Synthesis
But those were our thoughts, we decided to go right to the source and that was Backbreaker’s Associate Producer, Rob Donald. Here is what he had to say.
ZKG-Has a release date been set yet, Aug 2009 is the only thing we have.
RD– A release date has not been set yet. We’re taking all the proper steps to ensure we put out the best possible game. We won’t cut corners to rush out the game. That being said, we’re taking the approach that it will be ready when its ready.
ZKG– For your first IP, what made Natural Motion choose a football title?
RD– A football title, combined with euphoria, is the perfect fit. We wanted to make a real next-gen football experience. We knew we could make a revolutionary football game, one which brings the gamer right down onto the field. We also knew we were the only ones who could do this and it would only work with euphoria.
Madden isn’t the only game that will have you fighting for EVERY yard.
ZKG-What was the hardest thing about making Backbreaker and how did that title come along, it doesn’t really say football?
RD– Simply making a football game is a tough experience. It’s an incredibly complex sport beneath the surface. If you miss out one aspect of the game then everyone will see this huge gaping hole. This is why we’re taking our time. It’s not something you can throw together. Regarding Backbreaker as a title… well, we think it’s a perfect fit. The name represents not only the hard hitting nature of the sport, but more importantly, the fact that this title is a turning point for videogame football. This is the Backbreaker moment… it changes the game. Football titles have followed the same path for the last 20 years and we are stepping in to shake that up and provide a real next-gen experience.
ZKG-What does Natural Motion intend to achieve with Backbreaker, do they see it as something that could challenge Madden on a yearly basis or is it something that really shows off the best of what the Euphoria engine can do?
RD– We aren’t setting out to compete against Madden. We provide a completely different gaming experience. There’s plenty of room for both Burnout and Gran Turismo after all and they both feature cars! We’re simply concentrating on getting Backbreaker to the level of quality we are demanding internally. That said, we know it will show off euphoria… you’ve seen the trailers!
ZKG-Does Natural Motion want to be a development house in the future, do they want to be known as the guys who makes the engines that run great games or do they want to be known as the guys who make great engines and great games?
RD– Well, we’re a development studio already. A fresh team was put in place to develop Backbreaker and it’s been in development for a long time now. So we have a team continuing work on our animation engines and software and one working on creating a great game.
Now drop your shoulder and make them wish they never met you.
So to close it out we wanted to know if there was any more games on the horizon by Natural Motion?
ZKG-Is Natural Motion working on any other titles besides Backbreaker?
RD– We are not working on any other titles. Our efforts are being poured into Backbreaker and you’ll see the results of that effort at release.
Well that’s it folks, hoped you enjoyed the article and now have a deeper appreciation for all the work that is going into Backbreaker. We will stay in contact with the folks at Natural Motion and keep you up to date on any new developments. Now before we close this out, let’s check out some game footage.
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